Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Good news for a change, part five

Finally, before getting back to the real world, two bits of half good news, half because they are bills that have passed the House of Representatives but not yet the Senate.

- First, some relief for consumers who use credit cards.
Propelled through the House [on May 1] by antibusiness sentiment in tough economic times, legislation putting new reins on the credit card industry now goes to the Senate, where the bill's prospects appear promising.

The legislation, which has President Barack Obama's backing, would eliminate abrupt increases in interest rates and other practices decried by consumer advocates.
If only that "antibusiness sentiment" was really that strong. Despite the "promising" outlook, supporters admitted that
industry interests could succeed in getting restrictions weakened during the legislative slog ahead.
Still, the fact that the bill passed by an overwhelming and bipartisan vote of 357-70 should serve to stiffen some of those notoriously floppy Senate spines.

- Second, one week ago, the House passed a hate crimes bill that expands protected categories to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability in addition to the existing categories of race, color, religion, national origin, and gender.

The bill also provides grants to local authorities to investigate and prosecute hate crimes and empowers the feds to step in if states either request the help of if they refuse to act on their authority to prosecute.

The bill passed on a largely but not entirely party-line vote of 249-175. Obama supports the measure, but then again he also supported the proposal to allow bankruptcy judges to order lenders to reduce the principal on home mortgages - and then didn't do a damn thing to push for it as it went down to defeat in the Senate.

Opponents in and out of the Senate are pulling out all the usual stops, going on about "pedophiles" and "thought crimes" and "threats to religious freedom" and "elevating one group above others," even labeling as a "hoax" the idea that the murder of Matthew Shepard was a hate crime. It's all bullshit, of course, spouted by the usual cabal of right-wing wack-a-doodles, but one aspect amuses me: The law makes "sexual orientation" a protected category. If doing so raises members of the LGBT community above straights, gives them "special protections," isn't that saying that straights will commit crimes against LGBT folks out of hate but not vice versa? I mean, under this bill if a gay man attacked a straight man because he was straight, he'd have committed a hate crime. Aren't the residents of bizarro world essentially arguing that that would never happen?

Ultimately, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz nailed it:
"I wonder if our friends on the other side of the aisle would be singing the same offensive tune if we were talking about hate crimes based on race or religion," she said, referring to Republican opponents. "It seems to me it is the category of individuals that they are offended by, rather than the fact that we have hate crimes laws at all."
Damn effing straight. Oh, and by the way: 45 states and DC already have hate crimes laws. I haven't noticed any crushing of religious freedom or the creation of "thought crimes" as a result.

Footnote: I wrote at some length on my own thoughts on hate crimes legislation last July.

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